Holiday Office Party
● By Style
Illustration by John Stricker
Holiday hiring and spending are two huge indicators of the direction our economy is heading, and this season both are being watched with intense scrutiny.
But, I would suggest there is a third factor that bears scrutiny as well: the venerable, sometimes regrettable Holiday Office Party(HOP). This time-honored workplace tradition has been a casualty of an economy that, as many experts themselves have put it, “sucks duck toes.” A triumphant return would offer definitive proof that employers once again have enough confidence to blow thousands of dollars on an evening that will (literally) screech to a halt when Jason, the quiet office assistant, wearing his tie around his head like a bandana, staggers up to the rented karaoke machine and massacres “Welcome to the Jungle.”
Office parties used to be as annual a Christmas tradition as one of those Rankin-Bass TV specials. Shrimp bars, ice sculptures, funk tribute bands – it was the one time of the year when management didn’t seem like Burgermeister Meisterburger. Drink tickets were doled out like Oprah handing out new cars; blackjack and poker tables were set up for a casino-night theme (because, you know, what’s more Christmas-y than faux-gambling?); and seating was often assigned to encourage mingling between the ranks – which meant those drink tickets were at a premium if you were going to be listening to your boss and his third wife talk about their kids’ private school all evening.
Now though, a night out at a fancy hotel ballroom has been supplanted by an afternoon in the drab office conference room, and drink tickets replaced with coupons good for 10 percent off at Parolee Pete’s Christmas Tree Lot. That saddens me for one, because the Holiday Office Party has never been about the gesture itself, although it’s a nice one. No, the HOP is about something far more entertaining: the after-stories. Who didn’t look forward to coming in the following Monday to hear exactly what Liz from accounting did with Dave from sales behind the ice sculpture? Or to chuckle about how poor Bob from purchasing danced like Frankenstein being stung by bees? Or to learn that, yes, I really did announce to our boss over the PA system that I think this wife is his hottest one yet. And by the way, he wants to see me in 15 minutes.
But, I would argue that it’s about something else, too. These days, everyone lucky enough to have a job is trying to be superman or superwoman just so they can hang onto it, and in that scramble to look out for ourselves, there’s less time than ever to get to know the person in the next cubicle (although if that person is a mumbling little dude with a red stapler named Milton, maybe that’s just as well. But I digress). Ironically, we might be more in need of the Holiday Office Party than ever before.
Yes, the HOP is a chance to make an everlasting name for yourself as the guy who nearly drowned in the punch bowl bobbing for fruit chunks, but it’s also a way to find out Greg from payroll loves fly-fishing as much as you, or to meet the receptionist’s husband – the high school football coach, or to hear your mean old boss talk about how much he misses his oldest daughter who’s serving in the Middle East. And when we get to know one another beyond day-to-day superficialities, we’re more apt to work better together and fight harder for one another. And no matter what time of year it is, that’s something to celebrate.
Just keep Jason away from the karaoke machine.
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